Ride the Chariot and Yale: a study in misattribution

I took my daughter to her first a cappella concert yesterday, to see the Yale Redhot and Blue (as well as the women’s group from our town’s high school, the Lexington High Euphoria. As expected from a group of Redhot and Blue’s reputation, their set was excellently performed and jazz heavy (“Fly Me to the Moon” and Cole Porter’s “Redhot and Blue” were solid, “Angel Eyes” was spectacular and a welcome surprise). But they closed with an “old Yale song.” Which turned out to be, essentially, the William Henry Smith arrangement of “Ride the Chariot,” which I sang in the Virginia Glee Club in the early 1990s. More precisely, the Smith arrangement was used unmodified by the group, while the soloist improvised his own line around Smith’s melody.

I asked a member of the group about the Yale attribution after the show, and he said, “It’s an arrangement that’s done a lot at Yale. Each group has their own version of it and that’s ours.” A quick Google confirms the performance practice; the Whiffenpoofs do the same thing to the arrangement, as does the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus. Even the Yale Alumni Chorus gets in on the act, though they sing the SATB arrangement as written.

The attribution is a lot more dubious. The Whiffenpoofs’ repertoire page does not credit William Henry Smith for the arrangement at all, listing it as “trad. Yale”; other groups simply say “traditional.” Given that the arrangement is not only clearly Smith’s but that it was likely in copyright at the time it was adopted by the Yale groups (it was copyrighted in 1939, and if renewed by the publisher does not pass into the public domain until 2034), the Yale groups owe Smith a credit at the very least.

There’s also a matter of appropriation. While little is known about William Henry Smith (1908–1944), we do know that he was a professor at historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, known for graduating civil rights leader James Farmer, and that he directed the Wiley College choir, touring with them in the years before his sudden death. To claim authorship of a work published and copyrighted by a prominent black musician is unfortunate if done through ignorance, unforgiveable if done deliberately.

It’s unbecoming for the Yale vocal groups, even in ignorance, to claim “trad. Yale” authorship for Smith’s arrangement of “Ride the Chariot.” The various groups should correct this historical error and give Smith the credit he’s due.

The Grass-Hopper Cantata


Every now and then, in the course of researching the Virginia Glee Club’s history, I find myself following up loose threads that take me to some unusual places. This week I paged through old issues of the Madison Hall Notes, the weekly journal of the University of Virginia YMCA. The journal was published from around 1905 through about the start of the first World War, at the height of the Y’s influence over the student body, and contain a wealth of information about student life—including the Glee Club.

During this period, the Glee Club ebbed and flowed, but during three of its most active years (1905-06, 1910-11, and 1915-16) it was closely associated with the YMCA, and actually rehearsed in Madison Hall. As a result, its rehearsals and performances were listed in the Madison Hall Notes. I learned about a few concerts in Lynchburg and at Sweet Briar and Hollins… and about the Grass-Hopper Cantata.

Seems that in April 1911 the Glee Club did a joint benefit for the King’s Daughters (a hospital charity) and the UVA General Athletic Association, and performed the “Grass-Hopper Cantata.” What the heck is that? Apparently an 1878 takeoff on Italian opera by Innes Randolph, which was still being performed thirty years later… There’s a copy in the University of Virginia Library for those who feel inclined to dig deeper; I am just amazed to learn such a thing existed.

“The Business Manager … arranged a tour…”

"The Virginia Boys," Atlanta Constitution, January 28, 1894, p. 24.
“The Virginia Boys,” Atlanta Constitution, January 28, 1894, p. 24.

It was a busy fall. I gave my first public speech about the history of the Virginia Glee Club at last fall’s Glee Club banquet, and in the process did a little new research. I wanted to share a few notes from the background of that talk (slides here), which focused on the Glee Club’s tours beginning with its first off-Grounds concerts in the 1890s.

To do that, I’m including a short excerpt from a book I’ve been writing off and on on the history of the Glee Club. I’d love any feedback on the content below. The question I tried to answer was: given the Club’s spotty history for the first 20 years of its existence, why did it come roaring back in the late 1880s and early 1890s, going from virtual quiescence to mounting extensive tours? Here’s an excerpt that gives some of the background.

That the Glee Club’s early history should be bound to the Grounds of the University is unsurprising, if one considers both the fragile civil life and convalescing infrastructure of post-Reconstruction Virginia. That just 22 years after its founding it would be touring major Southern cities in four states staggers the mind until one thinks about one aspect of that badly injured infrastructure: the railroad.

Prior to the Civil War, the railroad did not enjoy the same rise to prominence in the South as in the North. In Virginia particularly, the spread of the railroad was hampered by the political power of the planters, who were suspicious of transportation initiatives that did not directly help get their goods to market faster, and of the elite in Richmond, who, starting with George Washington, had championed river transportation for goods, with an eye to keeping commerce in Virginia ports rather than sending it down the Mississippi to the port of New Orleans (under Spanish control until the Louisiana Purchase). In this spirit, the canal building enterprise that created the still-visible Chesapeake and Ohio Canal between Georgetown and Cumberland, MD and the James River and Kanawha Canal in Richmond sought to create water links from major plantations to ports. When railroads first started to be built in a significant way in Virginia, they were likewise viewed as ways to market for the planters; there was no vision of a network of rails that could assist with transit of goods over land and across state lines, much less comparable carriage of passengers.

After the Civil War, this began to change. The railroad company eventually known as the Chesapeake and Ohio bought smaller rail companies and began to connect the lines to out of state networks, beginning in the Reconstruction years. Following Reconstruction, the C&O was purchased by Northern rail barons and expanded still further.

And passenger trains became more widely available. In 1885, the Charlottesville Union Station, a passenger depot serving the C&O, the Virginia Midland Railway, and the Charlottesville and Rapidan Railroad opened on West Main Street in Charlottesville, where it still sits (serving Amtrak) today. Before this point, distance travel relied on horse power; afterwards, students could – and did – ride the rails.

So it was that the Glee Clubs of 1889–90, 1891–92 and 1892–93 mounted their first performances outside Charlottesville – albeit in the relatively close-to-hand locales of Staunton, Norfolk, Richmond and Petersburg. As we have seen, the Glee Club of 1889–90 had held a concert in the Public Hall in the Rotunda Annex, on April 11, 1890, and followed it that same weekend with performances in Lynchburg and Staunton. Two years later the Glee Club returned to the Public Hall on December 17, 1891, with a program that featured song in less than half the performance’s 15 numbers, the balance being devoted to banjo, guitar and mandolin works; the following night found them in Staunton, and a performance in Norfolk followed on April 20. The 1892–93 Club broadened its horizons still further, with a performance in “town” in the Levy Opera House in January, and a three city tour with appearances in the Richmond Theatre, the Norfolk Opera House, and the Academy of Music in Petersburg in February.…

After 1892–93, the group decided to travel much more ambitiously. Led by Bernard W. Moore and with help from a few graduating alumni, including George Ainslie, the group mounted its first major tour outside the state of Virginia. The 1894 Corks and Curls dramatically illustrates the growth of the group’s accomplishments, with the modest touring of 1891 through 1893 together taking up less than the space allotted to 1894.

Even before the tour proper, the Glee Club held performances in the Levy Opera House and the Staunton Opera House in mid-January 1894. The tour proper kicked off with a performance in Fayerweather Gymnasium on Tuesday, January 30, and was off to the Mozart Academy in Richmond the next day. Thursday saw the group in the Lexington (Kentucky) Opera House, and they continued in Kentucky with an engagement in the Louisville Masonic Temple on Friday. Saturday was the Grand Opera House in Nashville. The group took a day off for travel (and the Sabbath) but performed in DeGive’s Grand Opera House in Atlanta on Monday, February 5. Turning north again, they were in Chattanooga’s New Opera House Tuesday to conclude the tour on February 6. A performance in the Lynchburg Opera House on March 29 concluded the season.

How was such an elaborate and lengthy tour possible? Again, the railroad not only facilitated but was the only conceivable way to travel the miles from state to state so rapidly. Here the group had the assistance of the general passenger agent of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, John D. Potts. Apparently having no UVa connection, Potts nevertheless worked closely with the group through the 1890s, to the point of being named business manager of the group in 1895–96.

Note: This post contains an excerpt from an unpublished work and — unlike the rest of this Creative Commons licensed blog — is copyright © Timothy Jarrett 2016. All rights reserved.

“A musical entertainment in the Town Hall”

It’s been some time since I’ve posted any narrative about my work researching the history of the Virginia Glee Club. That’s honestly because a lot of it has been fairly uninspiring heavy lifting: looking up death dates of alumni from the 1930s, transcribing rosters from bad photocopies of Corks and Curls, and so on. But this week, as I tried to put some narrative around the first decade of the Glee Club’s history (which for this purpose we’ll describe as 1871 to 1880), I ran into another one of those interesting corners that pops up from time to time.

This time the question that I found myself asking was: what were all the musical students at the University of Virginia doing between the demise of the Claribel Club in 1875 and the coming of Woodrow Wilson’s incarnation of Glee Club in 1879?

Turns out, they were putting on minstrel shows.

To summarize: between 1876 and 1878, the Virginia University Magazine published notes about three different minstrel performances. The first note, published in October 1876, noted that some students intended to form a “negro minstrel troup” to perform for the local audience and also for the “young ladies, orphans and lunatics” of Staunton, Virginia. The following year, we are told that a “repetition with slight variations of the long-to-be remembered minstrel performance of last year” will be held in the Town Hall, for the benefit of the Rives Boat Club. (The Town Hall, later known as the Levy Opera House, would be the site of a Glee Club performance in 1894; the Rives Boat Club was in existence at least through 1889 and appears to be the distant forerunner of UVa’s crew team.) In 1878, the performance returned and once again benefited the Rives, though the Magazine noted that attendance had fallen off the previous year. There is no mention of a show in the years following, during which the Glee Club returned, though there is evidence, in the form of a program, that a troupe re-formed and performed in 1886 or 1887.

This isn’t the first time we’ve bumped up against minstrel traditions in researching the history of the Glee Club, and it likely won’t be the last. But it’s fascinating to me to see how the threads intertwine, and see the Glee Club in a larger context. That 1886 program lists Glee Club president Sterling Galt as one of the performers in the minstrel program, along with J.R.A. Hobson and W.P. Brickell.

I’ve looked for minstrel troupe programs in the library catalog; while the 1886 program is there, there’s no record of the 1870s performances—they may have been lost in the Rotunda fire. But I hope to find more information about the performances some day. The dividing line between outright minstrelry and the banjo and mandolin performances—and membership—of the Glee Club appears to be pretty faint. Understanding the complexity of the interplay between Southern culture, race, and music in the formation of the early group provides a fascinating glimpse into student life in the dawn of the Glee Club’s years.

A dream of Christmas: the Glee Club Christmas Concert’s first ten years

Oldest known Glee Club Christmas Concert program, from 1943

This year marked the 74th annual Christmas concerts of the Virginia Glee Club. Started during wartime in 1941 by Glee Club conductor Harry Rogers Pratt and continued through to the present day without interruption, this concert series has been the longest running musical tradition at the University of Virginia. I thought I’d look back and see what we know about these concerts and their evolution.

The first Glee Club Christmas concert was held in 1941 under the direction of Harry Rogers Pratt. We don’t have any documentary evidence of this concert; somehow no one associated with the University saved the program, at least not that we’ve found. But we have a College Topics (forerunner of the Cavalier Daily) article documenting the existence of the second concert, in 1942. The concert was to include a procession down the Lawn, “several Wassail songs,” and an audience singalong.

The 1942 concert was Pratt’s last performance as Glee Club director; he resigned the following spring to focus on war efforts. His successor, Stephen Tuttle, continued the tradition during wartime and arguably made the Glee Club Christmas concert what it is today, with a mix of audience carols, familiar and new holiday music, and interesting collaborations. We have the program from the 1943 concert, and it’s interesting reading. Arguably a little heavy on Holst and Bach, there are a few jewels among the items chosen, including a Tuttle arrangement of the Spanish carol “Hasten, Shepherds” that would show up performed by the Virginia Gentlemen in the 1967 Christmas performances. While composer and music department head Randall Thompson was accompanist for the performances, none of his works were programmed; that would change in years to come.

The other noteworthy thing about the 1943 performance is the inclusion of the Madrigal Group. Comprised of women associated with the University community, this group of thirteen women appears to have been UVa’s first women’s chorus! (I previously wrote about the Madrigal Group in 2011; sadly nothing came of my appeal for information.)

We don’t have a program from 1944, but the performance is attested in College Topics, including a roster of the Madrigal Group (which included a few members who had sung in 1943). 1945 continues in much the same vein, including a performance of Randall Thompson’s Alleluia (first performed by the Glee Club in its fall concerts that year).

The postwar years saw a massive swell of membership in the Glee Club, but the Christmas Concert formula remained remarkably stable, albeit with one major change, the departure of the Madrigal Group — there’s no attestation of the group’s existence after Christmas 1945 (save for a brief revival of the name in 1957). Over time, as Tuttle’s tenure in the directorship lengthened, his influence on the repertoire increased, with Renaissance composers like Orlando di Lasso and Josquin appearing alongside the customary Bach in 1947. This concert was also the oldest for which a recording survives, according to the UVA Special Collections library.

In 1948, during Tuttle’s Harvard sabbatical, Henry Morgan stepped in and delivered a fine entry in the canon, with a program that differed in specifics (a new Peter Warlock carol, a new carol by Morgan himself) but overall fit the general formula that was by now well established. I don’t have the 1949 program in the Glee Club archives, but 1950 continued along the same track, with new carols (“How Still and Tiny,” a Polish carol, makes its first appearance this year) joining the well established English and French numbers.

In the first ten years, the formula for the Virginia Glee Club Christmas Concert was well established: audience carols, familiar and unfamiliar tunes, larger works, guest groups, and lots of reflective holiday works. That you could take any of these programs from the first ten years and perform them without modification today suggests the longevity of the formula, and helps to drive home why these concerts became an annual tradition.

“Rugby Road” revisited

Thanks to the horrific article in Rolling Stone detailing the alleged gang rape of a University of Virginia student at Phi Kappa Psi, I’ve been thinking a lot about my alma mater this week. As part of that, I’ve revisited a piece I wrote in 2011 about the song used as a framing device for the article, “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill.” I spent some more time thinking about the piece last night after my Virginia Glee Club Wiki article about the song was linked from the New York Times yesterday.

Late last week, the current president of the Virginia Glee Club announced that he had taken an executive action to ban the performance of the song during his presidency. Left unreported in the Cavalier Daily article was the fact that he had also called for a vote of the membership to consider a permanent ban on the song; the ban was instead reported as “temporary,” prompting a storm of comments accusing the president of disingenuity or worse.

I wrote a letter to the president of Club and to other Club alumni last night about the issue and my thoughts regarding the prospect of a permanent. On reflection, I’m opening up the letter to a broader audience. I welcome reasoned discussion in the comments or elsewhere.

I have long jokingly said that those who criticize “Rugby Road” for sexism miss the point, since the first stanza celebrates the sort of conflict between faculty and student that led to the murder of John A.G. Davis by a rioting student. But of course, Davis’s shooting in 1842 led to a very public examination of the issues of student behavior, lawlessness, and entitlement that led to the tragedy, and to major changes in the course of the University’s history. By contrast, the issues raised in the second stanza, to say nothing of the apocryphal subsequent stanzas, are just now being publicly examined by the entire University community. This may well be this generation’s equivalent of the John A. G. Davis moment.
My feelings as an alum? By the time I came along, “Rugby Road” was only performed after midnight at the Clubhouse – we knew it wasn’t made for daylight. While there is a case to be made for celebrating history and for songs of revelry, my personal belief is that times have changed and the time for this song has passed. I am usually one to argue for preserving tradition, but not now. I am glad you retired the song; as a Club alum and the brother of a Women’s Chorus alumna, I hope it stays retired.
That said, the thing that makes me most proud of you guys and that gives me most hope for the University is that fact that you acted as a student leader, and not on the orders of an administrator or faculty advisor, to retire the song. The culture of self governance that grew from the tragedy in 1842 can still act in positive ways. Indeed, it is the only possible force for long term changes to student behavior. Thanks for showing that it still works.
The whole University is struggling to understand how the events alleged at Phi Kappa Psi, and especially the lukewarm response of the administration, could have happened at Mr. Jefferson’s University. In the process of our self-reflection, I think many of us, myself included, are becoming aware of aspects of the culture long taken for granted that contribute to a culture that protects attackers and blunts justice. I think it’s important to support the University, and particularly its current student population, as they work with best intentions to address those aspects of the culture, and not to tear them down.

2014 UVa Reunions, part 1: The Library

Alderman Library reference room.
Alderman Library reference room.

My 20th reunion has been a great time to connect with friends, gawk at the architecture (again), and disappear into the library. —Wait, what?

I got into Charlottesville on Thursday for reunions weekend, and headed straight to the library. I was on the trail of the mysterious Glee Club concert program. I found the mention of William Wood Glass‘s correspondence with Ada Bantz Beardsworth in January of this year, and one sentence in the finding aid was electrifying: “He also included programs for the University of Virginia Glee Club.” 

In the end, the discovery was simple. I went to Special Collections, requested the box of correspondence, opened it, and there it was: a program for the February 12, 1894 Glee Club concert. Featuring E.A. Craighill, author of the Good Old Song,  and the same concert program that the Club took on that 1893–1894 tour, the program formed the second earliest record we have of an actual Glee Club performance. It also had a human dimension: Glass wrote a letter to Ada on the front and back, describing the concert and its aftermath. He notes, “We had a fine time, but not as large a house as we anticipated. I made a great mash on one of Miss Baldwin’s girls.”

I’m getting the program scanned properly. It should be part of our permanent record of Club’s history.

I returned to Alderman on Friday to dig through other holdings. I finally laid eyes on the January 1871 copy of the Virginia University Magazine, which fixes our earliest date for the Glee Club, and made my way through much of the collection of Corks and Curls. I’ll post about some of those findings another time.

Virginia Glee Club History: Wanted

As I go through the process of researching the history of the Virginia Glee Club, occasionally I run across sources that are hard to get to from my home in Massachusetts but that would lend enormous value to our search. I’m posting the current list of sources in the hope that someone can help me find a copy of the source so I can fill in the blanks in our understanding of the past.

Why are some sources hard to find? There are usually a couple of reasons–either the item hasn’t been digitized (but thanks to references in other sources we know that it exists), or the item has been digitized but Google, in its infinite wisdom, isn’t making a full copy of the source available.

The current list:

  1. Corks and Curls volume 1 (1888). According to the snippet view search, Page 92 contains a description and information about that year’s Glee Club, about which we have very little information.
  2. Corks and Curls volume 2 (1889). Again, tantalizing glimpses indicate that pages 10, 96, and 97 reference the Glee Club. This is especially tantalizing because our only prior evidence about the group says that it did not organize in 1888-1889.
  3. Corks and Curls volume 3 (1890). Page 106ff appears to supplement what little we know about the group in 1889-1890.
  4. Additional papers of Ada Bantz Beardsworth, Box folder 23:2. This is a funny one, but apparently the subject had a former boyfriend in the Virginia Glee Club (William Wood Glass), who sang in the Glee Club in the 1895-1896 season. And they corresponded, and he sent her concert programs! We only have one concert program of the Club prior to 1900 so this item, in the UVA Library Special Collections, would be quite a find.
  5. Programs from the 1980s and the 2000s. For whatever reason, we have more knowledge about concerts in the 1940s through the 1970s than we do about the 1980s, 2000s, and even 2010s (thanks to a few generous alums we have the 1990s mostly covered). Anyone holding a cache of concert programs from these eras?

So if there are any sleuths out there with access to the UVA Library or other repositories of rare Virginiana, who can help me out with a scanner, I’d be eternally grateful.

Virginia Glee Club history: the University Band and the Arcadians

Virginia Glee Club recording with the University Band, 1947 (courtesy UVA Visual History archives)

I’ve devoted some of my Virginia Glee Club historical research time to non-Glee Club topics in an effort to better understand the life of the average Club guy across the decades of the group’s existence. In the process, I’ve learned some interesting things about Club itself.

First, other musical groups, namely the University Band. If you think the Club has had a checkered history, what with multiple potential founding dates and occasional fallow years, then check out the band! Though instrumental music has an earlier start date than organized glee clubs, with the first reference to student instrumental groups coming in 1832, there were not only many starts and stops but also outright faculty opposition. In a foreshadowing of this year’s performance space flap, students were forbidden in the late 1830s from practicing instruments except between the hours of 2 and 3 in the afternoon, or from four to eight o’clock at night—and never on Sunday. So formal bands died out, to be replaced by the Calathumps — not a good tradeoff for order at the University. New organized bands sprouted in the early 20th century but seemed always to die away, so you had a founding of a band in 1908–09, another in 1910–11, another in the 1920s, another in 1934, a dwindling to almost nothing in the early 1960s, and then a resurgence with significant donor money in 2004. The last refounding of the Band, with the clear goal of the extinguishing of the Pep Band, doesn’t reflect well on student self governance, but at least it got a band that had instruments and practice space.

Second, the Arcadians. I’ve written about them before, but it’s interesting to study this group in a little more detail. The University had had a small dramatic group, the VVV Club, in the early 1900s, but the Arcadians were something else—seriously organized, putting on big shows, and apparently sucking in all the musical talent. In 1904 the University only had 662 students, not reaching over 1000 until 1915–16, and the pool of available students wasn’t big enough to support both a Glee Club and a dramatic group that performed musicals. So, after five musicals, the Arcadians were bankrupt and no student groups remained to put on entertainments. Enter the Glee Club of 1910–11. And, given that there were only a few additional fallow years from this season forward, we can really thank the poor financial management skills of the Arcadians with giving the Glee Club the opportunity to get back on its feet for good.

Careless Love: The Virginia Glee Club in the 1950s

Glee Club 1956 promo acetate

There’s not a lot to say about the Virginia Glee Club in the later 1950s, seemingly. The group lost one of its more influential directors, Stephen Tuttle, to Harvard in 1952, and saw two directors alternate during the remaining years. There were tours, sure; legend has it there were even panty raids on other campuses. But no LP survives from the period between 1952 for almost 20 years; no big commissioned work exists; nothing remains but a bunch of concert programs.

Except this. The image above is of an acetate recording that was made as a promo record and sent to radio stations. Seems that Donald MacInnis didn’t spend much time with his group recording because they spent time trying to get on live radio. We know they were broadcast on WTVR radio, probably as a result of this acetate.

(Aside: an “acetate” is actually made of aluminum—or, in the WWII years, glass—coated with a thin layer of lacquer. You could cut one live, and some did, but you could also copy prerecorded music onto it. It was common to use acetates for promotional recordings when the number of playbacks was unlikely to be high. You can see the aluminum under the black lacquer of this disk around the hole of the record.)

The repertoire on the disk is interesting, too. The Bach is pretty straightforward, but it’s followed up by a downright woozy version of “Careless Love,” and then by MacInnis’s own version of Tom Lehrer’sThe Hunting Song.” I’m trying to imagine that on a Glee Club program today. In fact, I’d pay money to see this paean to hunting, in which the protagonist bags 7 hunters, two game wardens, and a cow, on a modern day program.

It’s a fun recording, albeit short, at around 6 and a half minutes. 

Cousin Frantz


As these things tend to go, my Virginia Glee Club history project has ebbs and flows. Sometimes there’s not a lot to write about; sometimes there’s too much. Like this past week, when I nailed down the identity of a few presidents of the Glee Club and discovered one was a third cousin.

I should have known that when I found someone named Frantz Hershey, he would turn out to be a relative. It turns out that not only do I know him, I have him in my genealogy. Ezra Frantz Hershey, Jr. was the president of the Glee Club in 1938–1939; he was also the son of E.F. Hershey, first cousin of Milton Hershey and treasurer of the Hershey Chocolate Company for over 40 years. Frantz is therefore my third cousin, twice removed.

As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.

I also confirmed Dan Vincent and Thad Polk as presidents of the Club in 1984-85 and 1985-86, thanks to a newly available Cavalier Daily article that showed up in Google News since the last time I checked. Surprisingly, even with those discoveries, I know less about the 1980s presidents than almost any other decade: I’m still missing information about 1980–81, 1981–82, and 1986–87. Always more work to do…

“Must be able to carry a tune”


In the process of putting together the Virginia Glee Club Wiki, containing the history of that illustrious 171-year-old assemblage, I’ve made my way through just about every official archive of Glee Club history. But there are gaps to be filled, so I’ve resorted to eBay. I’ve picked up yearbooks, magazines, and other ephemera trying to find information on missing years. And in the process, I’ve gotten hooked on the convenience and the thrill of it all. I’ve also grown a little blasé about it, paradoxically enough–one too many speculative purchases of Virginiana has ended in a cold trail, historically speaking.

So I wasn’t expecting much when I won an auction for the September 1935 edition of the University of Virginia Magazine (winning bid: $1.50). To my surprise, though, I hit pay dirt. This was the “new student” issue of the magazine, and it featured essays from each of the leaders of the (non-fraternity) student groups introducing to prospective students such Virginia institutions as Corks & Curls, the UVA Band, the Jefferson Society …. and the Glee Club.

I’ve posted the top half of the article above, including a pretty fair pen-and-ink caricature of the Club’s raconteur director from the 1930s, Harry Rogers Pratt. The rest of the article and a transcription have been posted to the wiki on the biography page of its author, Glee Club president Rial Rose. The article is pretty modest about the group’s requirements and ambitions:

There are just two things that are absolutely required of a man who wishes to join the University of Virginia Glee Club. He must be enrolled at the University, and he must be able to carry a tune.

But Rose does a spectacular job of defining the college glee club of the 1930s and painting a picture of what’s involved:

Now, a College Glee Club, in these days, is a very ambitious organization. It attempts to combine the best of all these various kinds of music. The religious and folk music of the negroes and Cossacks appear on the same programs with the popular and “pretty” music of the “Pennsylvanians,” and with the strong, soul-stirring music of the great composers. In 1934-35, for instance, the University Glee Club sang music of America, England, Germany, Russia, Finland, the Netherlands, and the Latin Church, while a quartet sang negro songs, on a typically arranged program. And, not content with merely singing the music, we attempted to perform it nearly as possible in the various styles of the peoples it represented.

For me, this is what’s so fascinating about the history of this group. Save for one or two phrases, this could be a description of the Glee Club I sang in, or the one that is under the direction of Frank Albinder today. But then in the middle, there’s that reminder that the Glee Club, like the University, was a creature of its times: “negro songs.”  At least this incarnation of the Glee Club wasn’t performing them in blackface.

Virginia football songs for the Chik-Fil-A Bowl


So here we are, on the eve of the last Virginia football game of 2011. At the beginning of the season, I had no hopes for a bowl game, in only the second season of the Mike London era. And yet here we are, in the Peach Bowl (now called the Chik-Fil-A Bowl) against Auburn.

As the historian of the Virginia Glee Club Alumni and Friends Association, I’ve had a special place in my heart for the football songs of the University, and I’ve written many posts about the origins of the songs. In honor of the game tonight, here’s all the posts in one convenient list. Enjoy!

The commencement of the author of “The Good Old Song”

Page 3 of the 1895 Public Days program showing E.A. Craighill, Jr.

A while ago, I picked up an interesting historical keepsake from eBay–the program from the University of Virginia’s 1895 Public Days, aka graduation. I was hoping to find some Glee Club value here, and I got it. The program lists 1895-96 Glee Club president McLane Tilton, Jr. as completing his undergraduate degree, and also has a familiar face picking up his Law degree–E. A. Craighill, otherwise known as the author of “The Good Old Song.”

It’s fun to look at the document and realize how different the University was then. Most of the degrees are professional or graduate degrees because the four-year bachelors degree was virtually unknown then. It wouldn’t be until a few years later that curriculum reform at Virginia and other universities standardized the four-year undergraduate degree that we are all familiar with today.

I posted scans of the whole thing to Flickr; enjoy.

Just Another Touchdown for U.Va.

UVa football at Lambeth Field, Holsinger studio

It’s Saturday, so it’s time for another post about UVa’s football song heritage. This week’s contest isn’t one of those like the South’s Oldest Rivalry that has inspired its own set of songs—Virginia has only played Southern Mississippi a handful of times in the history of the program. The contest against Southern Miss in 2009 did not have the best outcome for UVa, so this week’s song is to inspire those members of the Cavaliers community to redouble their energies in supporting the team.

Stephen M. O’Brien, who graduated from the University in 1902 and went on to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1914, would have appreciated having “Just Another Touchdown for U.Va.” used in this context. His song, written to the tune of “Just A Little Bit Off The Top” (the same tune as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”), has been used to marshal the spectators against Carolina, Norfolk, and Georgetown at various times. The third verse in the oldest printing of the lyrics extant (Songs of the University of Virginia, 1906) is as follows:

We’ve just come from Norfolk for the day–the day,
To-morrow we’ll go back to U.Va., V-a,
We’ll gather in Carolina’s tin, Virginia’s sure to win,
Ray! ray!! ray!!! then, and make a mighty din.

But in the 1911 University of Virginia football songbook, it’s transformed to:

We’ve just come to Georgetown for the day–the day,
Tomorrow we’ll go back to U.Va.,
We’ll gather in old Georgetown’s tin, Virginia’s sure to win,
Yell like hell then and make a mighty din.

And in the version performed by the Virginia Glee Club (arranged by Club’s conductor Arthur Fickenscher sometime between 1920 and 1933), the third verse is omitted entirely, but in the second verse the song has “Carolina’s mighty lame” (sometimes “Maryland’s mighty lame”) instead.

So I’d propose this set of words for this week:

Just another touchdown for U.V-a, V-a,
Just another touchdown for U.V-a, V-a,
Carry the ball a yard or two, we’ll tell you when to stop,
Yell, boys, yell, boys, Virginia’s on the top.

Just watch the men whose jerseys bear the V, the V
If up-to-date football you want to see, to see,
They stop the bucks, they block the kicks, the Golden Eagles are lame,
And the ball goes over, Virginia’s got the game.